Booze is big news. With recent official data showing an increase in hospital admissions for alcohol-related harm, and further evidence of a North-South divide, it’s a category where regulation looks set to become dizzyingly tough

In January 2010 the law tightened on the sale of alcohol to under-18s. Any store caught making underage sales twice will face a licence review but local councils also have powers to remove licences temporarily or permanently.

From April 2010, HMRC has the power to seize stock and impose fines on retailers who handle non-duty-paid alcoholic drinks. It can also impound stock on which it has reason to believe duty has not been paid. Retailers caught with 'grey market' stock on their shelves will also be liable for up to 100% of the missing duty.

From October 1, all premises which sell alcohol will be required to run an age-verification procedure for sales of alcohol, where anyone who looks under 18 must be asked for identification. This is part of the mandatory code of practice introduced under the Policing and Crime Act 2009. However, it has been suggested that the new government will not enforce this part of the Code.

The new government favours a ban on below-cost selling. It is consulting on how the cost price should be calculated and how the ban would be applied. Should it go ahead, the ban could be challenged under European competition law.

The coalition also wants to increase the maximum fine for underage sales to £20,000 and give local councils much stronger powers to remove licences, or refuse to grant them, if they believe alcohol is being sold irresponsibly.

These powers could be applied to areas rather than individual premises. Any resident of an authority area would be allowed to oppose a licence application, not just those directly affected.

A public consultation into these proposals recently closed and the Home Office has said new rules would not be enforced until 2012 at the earliest.

In its Alcohol Bill, the Scottish government proposes to ban promotions such as multibuys of alcohol, and make restrictions on advertising on flyers and window vinyls. The Bill is currently going through parliament and restrictions could be in place by the end of 2010.

The Northern Ireland Executive plans to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol in "clubs, pubs and supermarkets", but has not set a timetable for legislation. 

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